DOCTOR ON THE HOUSE

Don't dump your rubbish in skips, says Jeff Howell. (Unless you want to leave clothes, pencils or 'magazines' that is...)
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The Independent Online
You know you're getting old when you stop taking things out of skips and start dumping stuff in them. The best site for a skip, then, would appear to be in an area with a good mix of ages, where it can act as a recycling centre. The other morning I arrived on site to find a standard lamp on top of the pile. By 10 o'clock it had gone. If only I'd put a pounds 5 price sticker on it, to reward me for supplying the premises for the exchange.

For the builder, of course, arriving at work to find that your expensive skip space has been taken up by a mattress or wardrobe can be a major pain. The problem is endemic in cities, where the skip has to be left in the street - the neighbours can see it as a chance to clear out the shed, or an incentive to finally get rid of that old three-piece suite.

Other cases of skip abuse are more subtle. Secret drinkers often dump their empties in skips, for fear, I suppose, of what the dustmen might think. On one job, every morning would reveal another empty brandy bottle neatly wrapped in newspaper (the Daily Telegraph, in case you're wondering) and slipped under the tarpaulin cover. A skip on another site harvested a steady supply of porno mags, to great delight all round; that was the only job I've ever known where the plumber turned up every morning. There was one specialist publication devoted to practices involving funnels and lengths of rubber tubing, however, which even the plumber wasn't keen on.

Some builders have found worse things; murder weapons are routinely tossed into skips; and a few years ago a dismembered body was found distributed in several skips around north London.

But bottles, magazines and even arms and legs don't take up too much space. It's the wardrobes, carpets and sacks of garden rubbish that cost the builder dear, especially since the landfill tax raised the average cost of skip hire to around pounds 125. Some builders get obsessive about skip abuse, rifling through the bin bags and cardboard boxes for evidence of ownership. This usually shows up, on envelopes or in diaries, and the offending refuse is then triumphantly tipped in front of the perpetrator's house. Some interesting confrontations can ensue, a recurring theme being that people think skips are provided for the public good; "the council pays for it" is often offered in mitigation, despite the slogan "McGrath Bros", or "Supaskips" emblazoned on the side.

So what's to be done? A tarpaulin stretched across the top can help give the impression the skip is full, and discourage the wardrobe-and-mattress crowd. But some people will just toss stuff onto the tarpaulin - sometimes the first job on a Monday is to retrieve the tarpaulin from under a hundred Kentucky Fried Chicken cartons, or a wardrobe. Or the tarpaulin may get nicked. You can hire covered skips, but these work out pricey. In the end, most builders learn to take the rough with the smooth; you do get some useful stuff dumped in your skip; years ago I found a box of artist's materials, which has kept me in small brushes and 4H pencils to this day. One labourer I knew used to rummage through the bags of clothes for shirts and trousers to use for work.

But listen, if you want to get rid of stuff, don't expect some poor builder to pay for it. Just put it in front of the house with a sign saying, free to good home. Together we can end this skip abuse.

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